Supermarket Self-Checkout



  • I write a lot of user-interface stuff at work.  I'm not very good at it, but a long time ago someone had to do the user interface and it ended up being me, and since I've done it, I get to keep doing it.  But if I had done something as bad as the supermarket self-checkout lane, I'd quit my job in disgrace.

    I tried out the self-checkout lane last night.  There's a big screen and a few little screens and buttons and slots here and there with no particular rhyme or reason.  There's a mouse cursor on the big screen but no mouse.  There is no indication of what you do to begin.  I looked for an appropriate button to press on the screen.  I pressed "credit" because I was going to use a credit card.  (Actually I think you can just start scanning.)

    "Please scan your first item," said a voice.  So I scanned the first item and the voice said the price.  "Two.  Ninety-nine."  I put it on the conveyor.

    Next I had a bunch of bananas with no sticker so I pressed the "produce" button.  A lot of pictures of fruit came up and I pressed the bananas.  (So far so good.)  I put the bananas on the scanner (it has a scale underneath) and the voice said "One.  Thirty Four.  Please place your bananas on the conveyor belt."

    Actually it talked more like the computers in the Firesign Theatre album "I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus."

    "Please."

    "Place your."

    "Bananas."

    "On the conveyor belt."

    I did.  Then I scanned the eggs and it said "One.  Ninety-Nine.".  I didn't want them to get broken so instead of putting them on the belt I put them on the shelf.

    I tried to scan the next thing and it said "Please.  Place your.  Last item.  On the conveyor belt."  Now you have to understand that when a machine talks to me I talk back so I said, "No.  They're eggs.  They'll break."  No response.  "OK, have it your way" I said and put the eggs on the moving belt.

    The belt reversed direction (!) and the voice said "One.  Ninety-Nine.  Credit.  If you wish to purchase.  This item.  Please scan it again."  So I did, and this time like a good boy I put it on the belt.  (And immediately took it off so the eggs wouldn't break.)

    I scanned another two items and the voice said "The bagging area.  Is full.  Please bag your groceries."  It wasn't particularly full but the machine refused to scan another item so I went to the other end and started to put my items into bags.  Then the machine said "Come back here and scan your next item."  I said "Give me a break!  I haven't finished bagging these." and it said "If you have finished, please select your payment type."

    So I went back and scanned more items, and fortunately one of the register clerks took pity on me and came over to do the bagging.  There's no place to put the bags after you fill them; you just have to put them on the floor until your cart's empty so you can use it.

    When I was done I selected my payment type -- credit -- again (that was what I did first, remember?).  "Please pass your.  Credit.  Card through the reader."  So I did.  "Is that a.  Credit.  Card or a.  Debit.  Card."  "I just told you, it's a credit card.  Oh, you can't hear.  Where's the button?"  I pressed the credit button again.  Bitch.

    "Please.  Take your.  Receipt.  Have a nice day.  Please scan your first item."

    I don't think the register clerks have to worry about losing their jobs.

     



  • Sounds like your grocery store messed this one up big-time.  I use the self-checkout at HEB and it is very easy to use (though you have to punch in the codes for produce, instead of picking from a series of pictures; that would be easier).  Doesn't have a conveyor, just have to either put the stuff in a bag or on a scale next to the bags.



  • I use self checkout at albertson's frequently, but only when I have a handful of items.  If I've got more than a half dozen or so, I use the normal checkout.

    It doesn't have a conveyor belt, and there's a "Skip bagging" button you can hit after scanning an item.

    I really don't think I'd want to use it for a full cart.
     



  • I am constantly frustrated by the POS interfaces on POS systems. (Are the matching acronyms coincidence? I think not.)

    I go to any Safeway in Washington state, and I have to: scan a card, press a screen with a pen, scan a different card, press a screen with a pen, wait, and press the screen with the pen again. This is true whether I have two cards or not; if I don't have a Safeway card, I need to scan my payment card and THEN (when the system realises it's not a Safeway Club card) select the type of payment card I'm using, before having to scan it again. The big WTF on this one is that if I try to pause long enough to put either of the cards away, the POS system beeps at me. If I ignore it, the system will cancel the process. So if I want to put my Safeway Club card away before I get out my payment card, I can't. I have to have both cards out and ready the entire time, even when I'm using the stylus that I have to use to press the screen buttons.

    The self-checkout at Fred Meyer really takes the cake when you have alcohol in your basket. See, if you have alcohol, they need to check your ID. So you scan the alcohol, and nothing happens. It's only at the end, when you have already paid, that they request you show your ID to a human being that is manning a little booth near the self checkout. Which leads to a pair of interesting questions: what exactly will they do if I'm not old enough to buy what I've already bought, and why exactly doesn't the person at this booth just run the register? (As I write this, a colleague informs me that they don't do this anymore. I wouldn't know, since I've stopped going to Fred Meyer altogether.)

    I was particularly amused by Albertson's, which had a horrible self-checkout system. I bought three cans of soup. I put them in the bag. The checkout said "please remove last item from bag". I removed a can of soup. "Please place the item in the bag." I put it back. Guess what? "Please remove last item from bag." Apparently, the can of soup I was buying weighed just slightly more than the average can of the same brand and variety of soup, so the checkout thought I was trying to sneak something else into the bag along with the soup. So I got the manager who eventually came over to go get me a different can of soup. Twice - because he didn't believe me when I explained the problem, so he just walked out of view and came back with the same can of soup. (There's some real stupidity there, not because he did this, but because he told me he had done it. "Yeah, ha ha, I don't trust customers because they're all stupid. I guess I can't fool you.") Later, I had a similar problem with bananas, oddly enough. This was even more retarded, because the checkout system weighs the bananas to determine the price. Then it weighs what you put in the bag to make sure it matches. Which means the scale on the scanner didn't match the scale on the bag area. The self-checkouts there lasted a few weeks, then disappeared, leaving six large holes in the floor near the exits. A month or so later, three cashier-manned registers had replaced them. Seems I wasn't the only one with a problem.



  • In a major UK supermarket (I don't know which one), they have handheld barcode scanners that you take round with you when you shop. Not sure how produce is handled.

     



  • Yeah, I've felt the same way about some of the self checkouts.  Definitely a WTF in many cases.  The ones at my regular grocery store are quite buggy.  Almost every time I go there something gets screwed -- either with me or someone in front of me -- and an attendant has to come over to fix it.  Items scan correctly then get hung up on the conveyor belt, or they scan incorrectly, or the machine just decides it needs some coaxing by an attendant with a login card.


    I imagine the things are a bitch to test; I have a suspicion they're fairly well tested in the dev environment but go through much less testing out in the stores.  Hence the issues.

    My favorite experience was when I accidentally hit the 'Food Stamps' button instead of credit, and the machine screamed out for everyone to hear, "PLEASE BRING YOUR FOOD STAMPS UP TO THE CASHEIR!!!!"



  • I goto Home Depot a lot, networking gear, home improvement, wire, tools, etc. Usually the lines are too long at the manned registers to make it worth the wait. They have these so called "automated checkouts" as well. I get a LOT of issues with the weight of a particular item differing from the bag scale to the scanning scale. I mean I hardly ever get anything there small enough to fit in a bag, meaning it can't really be weighed properly.  I think that's the weakest link in the chain of automated checkouts. Is theft by adding items into the bag without scanning them a large enough threat to warrant such and unforgiving system?



  • These things have been recently foisted on us at Tescos (in the UK) and I was suprised to find myself feeling somewhat technophobic in regards to them. But I decided to bite the bullet and try one recently and found it a completely terrible experience.

    1) Theres othing like standing there like a prat waiting for assistance because the item you have bought isnt actually IN THE SYSTEM. I had this problem with 2 fresh produce items and thus had to TWICE stand around and wait for the firl to come and key in the code.

    2) I decided to pay by cash. The notes in slot is on the top right of the machine. The coin change slot is right next to it. I put £10 in, got my cash change but....was £5 short. Called the girl over...who pointed down to my KNEES where a £5 note was sitting in a tray. SERIOUSLY I am standing at the machine, right over this slot, the screen in front of me, money slots and bags to my right and Im expected to suddenly realise "ohhh I need to check my knees for change".....!!!

    3) After my first bag of shopping I natually took it off the bag area to fill another bag. THE MACHINE COMPLAINED AND TOLD ME TO PUT IT BACK ON!!

    If Ive anything more than a few items from now on Ill wait for a clerk even if those machines are empty. 

     



  • [quote user="m0ffx"]

    In a major UK supermarket (I don't know which one), they have handheld barcode scanners that you take round with you when you shop. Not sure how produce is handled.[/quote]

    This happens in Sainsbury's and possibly others. Produce is handled by weighing machines in the produce section that print out barcode stickers. Items that the handheld scanner don't read are OK; as you pay at the same checkout as everyone else, they will be scanned in there instead. Of course this is a system based on trust, occasionally they ask to rescan all of your shopping to make sure you're honest - a real PITA if you have a trolley full of frozen food...

    (It saves time as they can bag the shopping as they put it in the trolley, otherwise the threat of rescan wouldn't make it worthwhile.) 



  • [quote user="CDarklock"]I was particularly amused by Albertson's, which had a horrible self-checkout system. I bought three cans of soup. I put them in the bag. The checkout said "please remove last item from bag". I removed a can of soup. "Please place the item in the bag." I put it back. Guess what? "Please remove last item from bag."[/quote]

    I've had that happen to me all the time.  Whenever it happens, though, I can motion to the person at the little podium that supervises all of the self-check machines and they'll override it since apparently it happens so much that they don't even bat an eyelash about it.

    It doesn't seem that it's specific to one store, though -- I've been to probably four or five different chains that all use the same checkout system (same lady's voice, everything, the only difference being the store logos displayed and the color scheme), and it happens at all of them that use this system.  Albertson's, Fry's, Home Depot, Wal-Mart...there are probably a couple I'm forgetting too.

     Oh, and before I forget -- at an Albertson's once I wanted to buy garlic.  Now, you'd think that would be a common enough produce item that it would be no problem, but when I went through the little picture-menu there 1) wasn't an appropriate category; 2) after going through every remotely possible category, garlic wasn't in any of them.  I called to the attendant and they said that apparently garlic isn't in that menu so I guess that whenever anybody wants to buy some garlic via the self-checkout, someone has to come over and enter it for them.  WTF?



  • [quote user="kaamoss"]I goto Home Depot a lot, networking gear, home improvement, wire, tools, etc. Usually the lines are too long at the manned registers to make it worth the wait. They have these so called "automated checkouts" as well. I get a LOT of issues with the weight of a particular item differing from the bag scale to the scanning scale. I mean I hardly ever get anything there small enough to fit in a bag, meaning it can't really be weighed properly.  I think that's the weakest link in the chain of automated checkouts. Is theft by adding items into the bag without scanning them a large enough threat to warrant such and unforgiving system?
    [/quote]

    At Home Depot, if you want to buy a gift card you have to use the self-checkout.  The registers can't handle them.  I took one to the register and the clerk brought me over to the self-checkout machine to purchase it.



  • [quote user="mrbandersnatch"]

    < various gripes about Tescos />

    [/quote]

    I totally agree. They seem to have been designed by morons for cretins.

     



  • Picking the pictures of produce isn't neccesarily easier-- I use the self checkouts at Walmart and a lot of times my particular produce isn't listed.  (They also have some weird catagory system; sometimes it is listed but impossible to find. [Tomatoes-- vegetable? fruit? misc.?] )  This happens to me so much that now I just pick some random item of similar price, and weigh my navel oranges as eggplant.  

    Not only are those systems that complain about weight mismatches irritating, I don't understand the point at all. The only people they actually impede are honest customers, since the guy stealing some item is hardly going to be stupid enough to stick it right on the conveyor belt-- that's what pockets are for!



  • Where is the magical supermarket checkout system that AT&T promised us 10 years ago?

    A supermarket cart that records each item as it's placed in your cart, presumably letting you bag it at the same time, and to pay, you just wave your debit card at the cashier system while you exit the store.

     Of course, embedding rfd tags in each head of lettuce and each banana will add complications, but they promised we'd have these things and AT&T would bring it to us.

    True, if I happen to have 3 different forms of credit cards and/or debit cards, I'd be worried about which card (and function, if one card can be used for either debit or credit) was picked up by the readers as I'm walking out.

    I'm also sort of wondering how they'll get that receipt to me.  Maybe it can be printed out, shoved into a canister, and a trebuchet can fling it to parachute gently down to me as I exit the store. 



  • Fry's Foods (owned by Kroger, who also own Fred Meyer) does the self-checkout pretty well.

    There is no conveyor belt.  There is a bagging area with a carousel of bag racks, as well as an additional area to set things.

    Barcoded items are simply scanned and then bagged, unless they require age verification, in which case you have to go (right then) and show ID to the clerk who watches over all four self-checkout stations.

    Produce without a barcode requires you to hit a "Produce - no barcode" button, then enter the code that's on a sticker on the produce, and place it on the scanner/scale.  Once it has been weighed, you get to bag it.

    Bakery items without a barcode require you to hit a "Bakery Items" button, enter the code (for which the legend is on the bakery bag) and the quantity, and then place it on the scanner/scale.  Once it has been determined to weigh within acceptable tolerances, you get to bag it.

    Ready to pay?  Hit the "Pay Now" button, then go through the "Do you have any coupons?" menu.  "Yes" means you get to give your coupons to the clerk before proceeding.

    Now tell it whether you're using cash, check, card, or food stamps.  Check and food stamps require more clerk interaction.  Cash just slurps it up, and card means you get to deal with a standard POS card reader/pinpad.

    Getting change?  A loud voice will tell you where the paper money is, if you get any back.


    Oh, and there are no sentences constructed of disjointed phrases.  All sentences were recorded whole, spoken by a real human.


    Some of the stores (in the more-likely-to-be-shoplifted-from areas) have an additional step for every single item.  You have to touch it to a yellow panel next to the scanner/scale, so the inventory-control system can note that it's leaving with permission.



    All-in-all, it's a good system, unless you have a lot of items.  Because you can't be trusted to scan and bag each item quickly without slipping bonus goodies into the bag, you have to go one item at a time.  Regular checkout clerks can run huge numbers of items by the scanner much faster, so I go to them if I have a lot to buy.


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